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USU Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program Offers Critical Support for Service Members and Veterans

A service dog lays in front of a casket
By Sharon Holland

All eyes were on the yellow Labrador Retriever keeping watch over the flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush in Houston, Texas, following his death Nov. 30. The bittersweet image of Sully H.W. Bush, the Lab, was posted on social media and news outlets, where millions of people around the world saw the dog lying beside his Commander-in-Chief -- his last full measure of devotion.

Sully, named for “miracle on the Hudson” airline pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, III, was more than a sentinel. He was the President’s service dog, his faithful and constant companion who was at Bush’s side day and night to open and close doors, to keep him steady as he stood from his wheelchair, and to fetch things for the World War II Navy veteran. Bush, who was 94 years old, had suffered from a form of Parkinson’s disease, and Sully, who came to live with him in June, 2018, was with him until the end.

a service dog
USU’s Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program has provided funding to a number of organizations who train dogs to provide assistance to active duty service members and veterans. Sully H.W. Bush, the Labrador Retriever service dog for former President George H.W. Bush, was trained by one of the USU-funded organizations. (Photo by America’s VetDogs/Rebecca Eden)

Sully was trained by America’s VetDogs, based in Smithtown, Long Island, New York. The organization provides service dogs to first responders, veterans and active duty service members who need assistance. They are one of a number of canine training programs funded through the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program.

Sully with an American flag
USU’s Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program has provided
funding to a number of organizations who train dogs to
provide assistance to active duty service members and
veterans. Sully H.W. Bush, the Labrador Retriever service
dog for former President George H.W. Bush, was trained
by one of the USU-funded organizations.
(Photo via sullyhwbush)
Congress set aside $1 million in 2015 for a competitive grant pilot program for nonprofit organizations -- outside of those already working at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center -- committed to connecting service dogs with service members and veterans.

“As our soldiers return home, we must ensure that we are doing everything we can to provide for the easiest transition back into civilian life,” said the legislation sponsors, Congress members James P. McGovern, Niki Tsongas, Walter B. Jones, and Gwen S. Moore, in a letter to then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. “Given that so many of our service men and women are returning home with both physical and mental health disabilities, it is critical that we continue to provide them with access to multiple treatment resources. Many nonprofit organizations who train service dogs are limited in their ability to connect service dogs with veterans and service members due to financial constraints. Providing adequate grant funding opportunities for these nonprofits and expanding efforts to research this important issue are critical to ensuring that we provide our service members and veterans with the care they deserve.”

The $1 million funding was designated to the Defense Health Program for its therapeutic service dog program, and ultimately sent to USU to establish the program intended to award competitive grants to these service dog provider organizations.

“Service dogs are helping to treat veterans with physical disabilities as well as individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress. Assistance dogs help service men and women lead more independent lives, assisting with mobility and balance, retrieving and carrying objects, responding to sounds, getting help, and, providing social interaction and companionship. Trained dogs also offer many therapeutic benefits to soldiers and veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress by elevating their moods, building confidence, and reducing stress, all of which ease the transition back into civilian life,” the Congressional sponsors wrote.
three service dogs
Sgt. Dillon (left), Sgt. Truman (center), and Rear Adm. Bobbie (right), offer friendship and support to patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Sgt. Dillon and Sgt. Truman were trained by one of the organizations that receives grant funding by USU’s Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program. (DoD photo by Leigh Cutbert)

Congress has provided $31 million for the program since its establishment. Since its first year, USU’s Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program has given out more than 85 grant awards to organizations. The university will be issuing its fiscal year 2019 funding opportunity announcement for applications soon, and the grants will be awarded in the spring.

sully the service dog
(Photo via sullyhwbush)
“USU’s Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program supports service members and veterans throughout the country through continued learning, innovative training programs, and superior industry standards. The dedication of these nonprofit organizations to advancing these service dog programs and their commitment to our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines continues to be demonstrated through their documented success stories. The story of Sully is an outstanding example of that commitment,” said Melissa Beale, contracting officer and chief of the Research Support Division in USU’s Contracting Directorate, who has been involved with the Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program since its inception.

Sully’s tour of duty with President Bush may have come to an end, but his service to our nation has not. In keeping with the wishes of the Bush family, Sully will join his America’s VetDogs canine friends, Marine Sgt. Dillon, a black Lab, and Army Sgt. Truman, a chocolate English Lab, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after the holidays, where he will work with service members going through physical and occupational therapy, providing stress relief and comfort throughout the process.